Reflecting on Saint Gregory’s accomplishments in spreading the gospel and Saint Paul’s message to his fellow Christians, I can see how we are all “missionaries” of God when we live the way that God wants us to live.
Image of Gregorian Chants by Friedrich Neumann
By Norm McGraw
Whenever I write these reflections on the readings from the Saturday Mass of the week, I try to find a link between them because I think the Church might have that in mind. This week, we have a reading from Saint Paul to the Corinthians where he preaches to his fellow Christians how to act as God’s messengers. In the second reading, from the gospel of Luke, Jesus explains to the Pharisees why His followers didn’t break the spirit of the law when they ate grain on the Sabbath.
Finally, this week the Church celebrates Saint Gregory the Great who, among other accomplishments (ie., the Gregorian Chants), was an important “missionary” pope.
So how are these readings and the life of Saint Gregory connected?
In the first reading, Saint Paul begins, “Brothers and sister: Learn from myself and Apollos (another follower) not to go beyond what is written; so that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person to another.” Later, he explains, “For as I see it, God has exhibited us Apostles as the last of all.” Still later, he continues, “When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”
Saint Paul was telling Christians of his day how to act as missionaries of their faith. In effect, he’s telling us — present day followers of Christ — how to act. We should not be “inflated with pride” in our belief. In accepting the act of faith, we should not be “boasting as if you did not receive it.”
The best way to be a missionary for God is by example. Act in the way God wants us to act. As Saint Paul stated, “. . . when slandered, we respond gently.”
It’s also important to understand the spirit of God’s law as well as the letter of the law.
The second reading focuses on this aspect. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus defends his apostles eating grain on the sabbath from the Pharisees’ charge that His followers were breaking the religious law. Jesus answered that King David broke a similar law to feed his companions on the sabbath. But neither incident was against the spirit of the law.
Why not? Because they were following a greater law — God’s. Because, as Jesus stated, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
By acting as Christians, as Paul tells the Corinthians, and by staying within the spirit of God’s law, as Jesus preaches in Luke, we are with God. “The Lord is near to all who call upon him,” as the Responsorial Psalm says.
So how is the life of Saint Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory I) related to these readings?
Among his many achievements, Gregory instigated the first recorded large-scale mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, to convert the largely pagan Anglo-Saxons (the English) to Christianity in the latter part of the 6th century.
This was especially difficult for a Roman pontiff to do, considering the economic disaster created by the attacking Lombards in Italy at that time. Compounding his problem was the inability of the eastern section of the Roman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople (present day Istanbul), to help.
Pope Gregory had to provide a system to feed the poor in Rome on his own. Fortunately, he had the administrative ability to devise a solution “outside the box.” And he succeeded.
Solving problems within the rules but outside the established norms is akin to adhering to the spirit of law as opposed to the letter of the law, as Jesus did defending his apostles’ actions to the Pharisees in Luke’s gospel.
Humility was another quality Pope Gregory exhibited. Although born of nobility, he spent his early clerical life in the monastery. That is why he speaks of being, “Servant to the Servants of God” in his writings.
Moreover, he is an excellent example of someone using his wealth and power to provide to the poor. Upon the death of his father, Gregory converted his family villa into a monastery dedicated to Andrew the Apostle.
One of the pope’s most famous quotes is “Age quod agis” — “Do what you are doing.” With this phrase, he meant stay focused on what you are doing to serve the Lord.
Indeed, he seemed to follow Saint Paul’s missionary guidelines to not be “inflated with pride.”
In fact, reflecting on Saint Gregory’s accomplishments in spreading the gospel and Saint Paul’s message to his fellow Christians, I can see how we are all “missionaries” of God when we live the way that God wants us to live.
Saint Paul said it best in Corinthians: “We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ.”